Remember this Simpsons bit with Krusty about hemorrhoids and riding bikes?
That “I can ride a bike again!” idea jumps into my head a lot (more often than a person should really think about hemorrhoids…probably). I think about it in conjunction with that “It’s just like riding a bike” expression used to refer to an activity that, once learned, becomes so second nature that it can be engaged again without effort even if it’s been a long time since the last time you engaged the activity.
I’ve been improvising on stage since I was 12. Over the subsequent years I’ve learned a lot and logged a lot of hours on stage. You might think at this point – even if I were to step away from improv for a while – I could get on stage with anyone anywhere and it’d be “just like riding a bike.”
But then there are those damn hemorrhoids. Once you get decent at something you can get in your head about not wanting to fall back below that level of competence you’ve reached, and that fear actually undermines the effort. God forbid you start teaching so that every time you get on stage in front of students your mind goes to “putting your money where your mouth is” instead of putting your mind in the moment. And, heavens to Betsy, one day you’ll be on the old side of this young person’s hobby and you’ll feel that while you’re taking stage time those whippersnappers are thinking you should be put out to pasture. Hemorrhoids!
On top of that, you might be committing the worst sins of the old improviser: You and your team aren’t practicing and don’t have a coach. So you are feeling all the pressure in the world to succeed on stage and eschewing the thing that your ensemble needs to succeed.
Yes, “you” is “me.” These are my hemorrhoids, my sins. Riding a bike was hard.
But guess what? “I can ride a bike again!” And the fix? Preparation (H).
The difference between one actor delivering all three of those lines and three improvisers delivering one of those lines apiece is huge in terms of audience reaction. When the audience sees that a player is accepting a choice given to them – as opposed to making their own choice in a vacuum – the audience will reward the attempt above the delivery. Forcing another improviser to own an endowment (aka pimping) can leverage improv as improv does best by emphasizing collaboration and minimizing the pressure on an individual to be clever.
It’s wonderfully counter intuitive. If I “pimp” another player into reciting the poem they just wrote, that other player may feel a lot of pressure to provide a clever/funny response. But, with the audience knowing the situation has been forced on the player, whatever the player commits to will be accepted. Improvisers need to feel that being forced into a corner is not confining, it’s freeing.
And, accepting a bizarre reality is more affecting than creating a bizarre reality.
This warm up exercise will make a team more comfortable forcing a situation on one another and more empowered being forced into an endowment. Continue reading →